Srinagar, Nov 9: Come November, thousands of magnificent Chinar trees across the Kashmir valley turn into blaze which presents a look everyone, including foreigners, want to have a glimpse.
Late Prime Minister , Indira Gandhi used to visit Kashmir valley every year around this time to watch the fall fire, when the autumn is about to say good-bye to the valley.
Hundreds of tourists from different states said they arrived in Kashmir, despite cold, to watch Chinars.
Tourists visit Kashmir in summer when flowers are everywhere, but they miss this season which is more attractive, said Mohan Lal, who had arrived here last week along with his family from Delhi.
According to Director Information Khalid Bashir, centuries ago, the sight must have inspired some visitor to christen it as 'chi nar' (what a fire).
The end of the summer in the Kashmir valley is the beginning of the glory of Chinar as crimson tinge appears on the green leaves of the tree that catches up with the entire foliage and, by the end of the month, the tree is at its magnificence best.
The breathtaking beauty has to be seen to be believed. Whether in grooves, as in the Naseem Bagh, adjacent to the holy shrine of Hazratbal which houses the holy relic of Prophet Mohammad, on the banks of the Dal Lake or in a solitary posture as on the tip of a rice field in the countryside, the Chinar simply looks gorgeous.
Contrary to all other native plant species whose green leaves turn pale in autumn, become dry and, ultimately, wither, the five lobed Chinar leaves change many colours before they fall.
The deep green colour first turns slightly reddish, then crimson red before it finally turns yellow and falls from the branch only to be collected in heaps and transformed into charcoal for use in Kangris (fire pots with which Kashmiris fight the intense winter).
The spectacle of the Chinar-fire ignites the landscape of the Valley as much as the imagination of those who happen to witness it.
Mr Khalid, a poet and author of several books on Kashmir, said botanically known as Platanus orientalis and locally called Boen, the tree is decidedly more elegant in autumn than in any other season although it stands out in its majesty in the entire plant species throughout the year. ''The colour change is due to gradual decrease in temperature and consequent reduction in chlorophyll content in the leaves,'' said a Botanist.
The process unveils two pigments of carotenes and xanthophylls, otherwise camouflaged by chlorophyll in green leaves.
The tree attains a height of up to 25 meters and a growth exceeding 50 feet in certain cases.
The circumference of a Chinar at Bijbihara in south Kashmir was measured at 54 feet while another Chinar in the Lolab valley (north Kashmir) had a circumference of 63 feet 5 inches.
The thickest living Chinar was discovered at Chhatargam village in central Kashmir with a circumference exceeding 60 feet, Mr Khalid said.
The Chinar is indigenous to Kashmir and the old misconception about it having been brought to the Valley by Mughals is waning, he said and added that the Kashmiri literature provided references to show that the tree was available in the Valley before the advent of the Mughals.
He said an epigram of the mystic poetess, Lall Ded, who lived two centuries before Akbar annexed Kashmir in 1586 AD had mention about this.
It is being said that King Akbar himself once took 34 men into the hollow of a Chinar and his son, Jahangir, found shelter along with 12 horsemen in a similar hollow trunk of the tree to escape heavy rain.
The Chinars must have been several hundred years old to accommodate so many people and animals, Mr Khalid said.
The Mughals, nevertheless, treated the Chinar as a royal tree and propagated it on a massive scale in Kashmir.
In fact, there were as many as 700 Chinar gardens laid out by them around the Dal Lake alone. Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan planted 1200 saplings in the Naseem Bagh and watered them with milk. Their liking for the tree that was also found in abundance in their ancestral homeland in central Asia which has conceived the myth that the Mughals introduced the Chinar to Kashmir.
The pollen analysis have not so far revealed any micro or macro remains of the tree even as reports suggested that geologists have found a seven-lakh-year old fossil of the Chinars from a south Kashmir town. If true, it could shed new light on the tree being indigenous to the valley. Even as the tree is found across the Valley, there is no accurate figure available as to how many China's exist in Kashmir, he said, adding. the count is long due.
The last time the census was conducted by the Department of Gardens, Parks and Floriculture was in 1970 when the number was put at 42,000.
Two years ago, 6150 Chinars were enumerated in Srinagar district. However, the tree has suffered much damage due to neglect and human greed lately.
Environmentalists as well as common people are alarmed at the Chinars decaying in large numbers even as scientists try to locate the cause.
Nature lovers advocate strict enforcement of the law protecting the tree.
The Jammu and Kashmir High court has also directed the public works department to seek prior permission from the Director Floriculture who would certify that no damage was likely to cause or that remedial measures would be taken first and only then construction work including of roads and construction of bridges started where a Chinar stood in the way.
The department of Gardens, Parks and Floriculture runs a separate scheme for looking after the tree and distributing its saplings for propagation. The department has four Chinar nurseries at Srinagar, Achhabal and Tangmarg.
''Between 1988 and 2002, about 70,000 sapling were distributed to government and semi-government offices and private individuals'.
The highest number of 10,149 saplings was distributed in 1997-98. The treatment of diseased Chinars is also the lookout of the department.
The Chinar is intricately woven into the cultural matrix of Kashmir. There are umpteen places in the valley like Boeni Bagh, Nofle Boen, Bata Boen, Naevid Boen, Haft Chinar and Chaar Chinar whose names have been inspired by the tree.
Kashmir being home to this glorious tree, efforts have been made to export it to other states in India and abroad. The Chinars have been successfully planed in Jammu, New Delhi, Meerut, Chandigarh and Deharadun although the tree does not attain its usual size and growth there. The tree is found in many countries in different varieties.
Encyclopaedia Britannica describes it as a native of Greece and Western Asia. In the South West Europe, The Romans introduced the-tree while in the US allied species is regarded as native and is abundant in Lower Ohio and Mississippi riverside.
The tree is also cultivated in Afghanistan, Iran, Baluchistan (Pakistan) and Western Himalayas at an altitude of 2000 to 8000 feet.